Defining one’s terms

Happy 2011 all! Lots been going on in the blogosphere while I’ve been away. (Don’t you guys take a break?) One thing that took my eye was the somewhat tangential debate that followed Alanna Shaikh’s otherwise great post on the disconnect between how aid actually works and how it is portrayed in the Western media. Banditman Lee correctly called out Alanna for confusing Aid and International Development, a mistake I’ve heard others made. Lee laments:

“If smart and engaged people can’t tell the difference then how can we expect anyone else to?”

J asked for some definitions, which I cheekily suggested as follows:

  • International Development = what we want to happen (mostly broad-based economic enrichment, but you can chuck in all your multi-dimensional stuff too)
  • Aid = a charity-based way to soothe our guilty consciences* that kinda pretends to deliver International Development (and other important stuff too, like saving lives)

The important thing to remember is that there are other (and probably better ways) to skin the International Development cat, and that while Aid has a role to play, it has an unfortunate habit of distracting attention from some of the more important ways we could help. Equally, Aid can do more than just contribute to economic development, indeed it seems to be at its most effective when it does so; e.g. the conservation-development nexus in which I work and on which this blog focuses.

* Guilty consciences as in “veil of ignorance” luck of the draw in where one is born, our countries partly got rich exploiting them in the past, and we still screw them with the international trade rules. Not saying we should feel guilty, just that charity tends to prey on those feelings.

ps. Any would-be commenters out there may want to consider instead commenting on Alanna’s original post where most of the debate, such as it is, currently lies.


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